Police chief heads for retirement

Clovis Police Chief Steve Sanders

Clovis Police Chief Steve Sanders

Clovis Police Chief Steve Sanders is retiring in June after 28 years in  police work. Sanders, who started out in public service as a paramedic in Colorado, is looking forward to seeing the United States with his wife, Peggy Sanders. His goal is to see our country’s history … and all of its professional football stadiums.

Question: How many years have you been with the Clovis Police Department?
Sanders: “It’ll be 6 1/2 years. I came here in October 2008 from Denver when the police chief Dan Blair left, so then they opened it up and did a nationwide search. I came down and was hired by Joe Thomas.”

Q: How many years total as a police officer?
Sanders: “When I leave on June 12, it’ll be 28 years. And then I did eight years as a paramedic, so I have 36 years total in public services.”

Q: What inspired you to go into public service?
Sanders: “Ironically, I did the EMS stuff based on the fact I wanted to be a paramedic, and so I was the youngest certified paramedic in the state of Colorado at the age of 19. I worked a year as an EMT and went to paramedic school; that’s really what I wanted to do. Then I moved to Greeley, Colorado, and did that for about seven years there, and that’s when I realized I could be a policeman.

“I met my lovely wife, Peggy. She was a police officer with the city, and she talked me into taking the police test. That’s how I got started (as a police officer) in 1987. I went to work for the Greeley, Colorado, police department and started my career from there.”

Q: What’s one case that sticks out in your mind?
Sanders: “… Perhaps the most trying case I had was the unfortunate car crash involving a police car at Grand and Sycamore streets where an officer had broadsided a pickup truck with two women in there. One of them was ultimately killed and the other was injured severely.

“That was probably my most trying case. At the time, a lot of folks didn’t have a lot of trust in the Clovis Police Department, and there were lots of calls for us to bring in outside investigators like the state police and all this other stuff.

“As the chief of police, it was my responsibility to make sure that, regardless if we were right or wrong or indifferent, that we find the truth. We did the investigation.

“It was unfortunate — we were at fault — and it’s very unfortunate that one of the officers did cause a loss of life. But at the same time, we couldn’t treat that case any different if it was you that was involved in the case.

“So I believe, although it was trying for us, I believe it was something that people started to realize that we are going to take care of business regardless of who’s involved.

“One that would be more memorable to me would be the Ms. (Ariel) Ulibarri case. I’ve worked many a homicide, don’t get me wrong, but that’s the first one that I’ve ever seen in my career where they’re complete strangers.

“Not only can it happen to anybody, you sit in this chair and you think, ‘How do you as a department prevent that from ever happening again?’ And you realize that, I’m not sure that we can.”

Q: How have you seen Clovis and the policing system change over the time you’ve served as a police officer?
Sanders: “Clovis is at a tipping point. …  We’re too big to be small and too small to be big. We have enough people in town now, 38,000 or whatever … and we only have 61 sworn officers to solve the problems.

“Our call load has been going up about 2 to 4 percent every year. We’re going to a lot more stuff, responding to a lot more stuff, and not having any change in the manpower.

“So, sooner or later that’s going to have to be addressed. Either we’re going to have to stop going to some stuff that’s not really police-related — but we go there because it’s a public service thing and we’ve been doing it forever — or we’ve gotta add some more manpower. So, whoever takes the seat after me, those are gonna be some of their challenges.”

Q: What’s one of your biggest achievements since taking over the Clovis Police Department?
Sanders: “Probably one of the greatest achievements since I’ve been here for six years is we’ve become an accredited organization.

“There’s 259 standards that came from a national organization that really have to be addressed to say you’re doing policing in the right way. So, we wrote a new policy book, addressed all 259 of these standards and everybody knows what the rules are. It’s based on constitutional policing, and that’s probably been the biggest accomplishment for us here in the six years that I’ve been the chief.

“We took that on in 2009, we got accredited in 2012, and now we’re up for reaccredidation in November. These guys are all ready to rock and roll and have some instructors come in and make sure we’re compliant, and we should get reaccredited for another three years.”

Q: What are some things you wish you could change at the police station that has proven difficult?
Sanders: “We still have turnover. Pay is an issue sometimes, but it’s one of those situations where a good portion of our officers are military spouses. Your husband gets stationed somewhere, you get settled into your job, feel like you’re ready to go, and the employer is happy about what you’re doing, and the next thing you know, because of the military thing, you’ve gotta go to another site or city or whatever. …

“It’s hard finding people that want to do this work, and we are not in the good graces of society. There’s a lot of mistrust and distrust and everybody’s screaming for transparency, so why would they want to do this? You’ve gotta be dedicated to do this kind of work. We don’t do it for the money; we do it to serve our communities.”

Q: Will you miss being a part of the police force?
Sanders: “… No, I think I’ve done my time. I’ve done what the good Lord put me on this Earth to do during those 36 years and now it’s time to move on and enjoy a little bit of life while we’re still young and can do that kind of thing.

“I will miss the people; I don’t think I’ll miss the challenges of having to solve everybody’s problem.”

Q: So what are your plans for retirement?
Sanders: “You know, my lovely wife and I bought a motor coach, and my bucket list is to see a professional football game in all 32 stadiums in the United States. My lovely wife’s bucket list is to see some sort of history within each of the 50 states.”

— Compiled by Deputy Editor Brittney Cannon